Commentary

Confident Sanchez has solid showing

A ball of nervous energy, USC QB Mark Sanchez had a good throwing performance Sunday at the combine.

Updated: March 2, 2009, 12:32 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Mark Sanchez and Matt StaffordAP Photo/Darron CummingsUSC quarterback Mark Sanchez, left, threw at the combine Sunday. His close friend, Georgia QB Matthew Stafford, elected to skip the throwing session.
INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the neat things about having a top quarterback participate in the combine is seeing how his personality is exposed before scouts, coaches and GMs for 32 teams.

USC's Mark Sanchez clearly showed his competitive nature Sunday.

Sanchez was in a group that featured 10 quarterbacks, but the only one who didn't throw was Matthew Stafford of Georgia, a close friend of Sanchez's who is competing with him to be the top pick in the draft.

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Instead of throwing at the combine, most potential first-round QBs elect to hold their own throwing session in March at their college campuses with receivers they know. Peyton Manning, one of the most competitive quarterbacks in the game, skipped the combine workouts when he turned pro in 1998 and advised Stafford to do the same. Stafford did only the running drills and vertical drills Sunday.

Sanchez, a ball of nervous energy during the drills, elected to do all of them.

"That's just me," Sanchez said Friday, two days before his workouts. "I've got to do this. I feel like I want to do it. I'm a competitive person. I want to win, and that's what I'm about. It would kill me not to throw.''

Sanchez wasn't great in the throwing drills, but he was good enough. He proved he could make all the necessary throws to be a top NFL quarterback. His slant passes to his right were the strongest. He held the ball high and displayed good mechanics. He completed both of his go passes to the right side at 31 and 32 yards. His 40-yard go patterns to his left were accurate and had nice arc. Very few of his passes hit the ground, showing that he has a catchable ball.

I could tell this week that the competitive fire within Sanchez still burns after he had one of the best games of his career in the Rose Bowl. Sanchez completed 28 of 35 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-24 victory over Penn State. He was ready for his next challenge, so he applied for the NFL draft and skipped his senior season.

"I feel like this really was the right time for me," Sanchez said. "That was obviously the pinnacle of my career. I felt very tuned in, dialed in for that game. I visualized things very well, and we played at heck of a game as a team first. We peaked at the right time, and it was a good way to go out."

Sanchez showed confidence in his throwing motion and mechanics Sunday. He also had a good fan base, led by, of all people, Stafford, who cheered Sanchez when he ran his 40 and encouraged him during the throwing session. Although Stafford didn't throw, he took time to help Sanchez loosen up before the drills. Their friendship goes back to the Nike Elite 11 camp in high school.

Stafford edged Sanchez in the 40-yard dash, running 4.84 seconds twice. Sanchez ran a 4.88 and 4.97. Sanchez topped Stafford in the vertical jump, leaping 32.5 inches to Stafford's 30.5.

Should Sanchez go ahead of Stafford in the draft?

"Absolutely," Sanchez said. "I'd better think that. And I think he should think that, too. That's what we've got to think. As a competitor, that's all I want to do is be the best that I can be. And the best you can do in this draft is be No. 1.''

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer